On the 28th May 2020 the Clerk to Stanton Parish Council sent a Confidential e-mail to a local Housing Association. The subject of the e-mail was a Safeguarding enquiry about a local family, tenants of the Association.
Despite the Confidential nature of the e-mail, which was emphasised in the body of the communication, details of it were released by the Housing Association to the family concerned who subsequently published the text and comment on Facebook and other Social Media.
Unfortunately, the original e-mail sent by the Clerk, contained ill-judged comment including references to race and ethnicity as well as inappropriate personal opinion.
As a result of the necessity for Stanton Parish Council to respond, the Personnel Panel of the Parish Council was tasked with a consideration of the situation and was required to provide recommendations as to further action, in a timely manner. Apart from consideration of the content of the original e-mail and the Clerk’s actions and motivation, the Personnel Panel accepted that there was also a Duty of Care in respect of the Parish Council’s employee.
The matter was dealt with in strict accordance with the mandatory Code of Conduct Regulations drawn up by the Law Lord, Lord Nolan and in accordance with the ACAS recommendations as laid down in Local Government Association legislation.
The Personnel Panel were satisfied that the decision for the issuing of the original e-mail, however ill-considered, was motivated by a genuine Safeguarding concern. Moreover, the badly judged wording of the original e-mail was the direct cause of the subsequent unfortunate situation.
It was therefore decided that a letter of apology, the wording of which to be approved by the Personnel Panel, was to be sent by the Clerk to the family concerned, and disciplinary action be taken on behalf of the Parish Council in respect of the Clerk’s actions. Both have taken place.
A motion was laid down in support of the actions of the Personnel Panel, it was passed unanimously at the meeting held on the 16th July 2020.
Regarding the actions of the Housing Association staff in the release of a Confidential communication, the Personnel Panel recommended that professional advice should be sought regarding a breach of Safeguarding Guidelines and possibly a breach of General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).